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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the occasion of the Golden Doves for Peace Prize Award, Rome, 30 June 1993

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Statement by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, on the occasion of the Golden Doves for Peace Prize Award, Rome, 30 June 1993

30 June 1993

Mr. President, Members of the Jury, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Mr. President, I should like to thank you most sincerely for honouring us with your presence today. I also wish to thank the Archivio Disarmo for having decided to award "The Golden Doves for Peace Prize" to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I am particularly happy that this ceremony takes place in Rome, the capital of Italy - a country which ranks among the strongest supporters of the United Nations in general and my Office, in particular.

UNHCR increasingly works in the midst of war. Our mandate is to protect and assist refugees who are the victims of war and violations of human rights. Humanitarian action can build a bridge between war and peace. Urgent humanitarian efforts can reduce the seeds of tension. It can create time and space for political initiatives. Under neutral and non-political humanitarian cover, the belligerents and antagonists can be brought together. We have often seen political results emerging from what began as contacts on humanitarian issues. When refugees decide to return, they go back to peace, or more often these days, they go back in order to contribute to the building of peace.

When, some 15 months ago, Cambodian refugees started returning from refugee camps in Thailand, they did so in conditions of tension and uncertainty. But there is no doubt that their return was an important step in the process of confidence building. By 1 April 1993, 360,000 refugees had returned in time to participate in the elections which have now placed Cambodia firmly on the path of reconciliation, democracy and peace.

We need to remind ourselves of the successful Cambodian operation in order to gather the necessary strength to confront the daily deterioration of the situation in former Yugoslavia. There we are witnessing an explosive mixture of intensification of war, political deadlock, restrictions on asylum and the virtual depletion of financial resources and food. UNHCR has for more than 18 months led the international relief effort which, until now, has produced commendable results. The airlift into Sarajevo, which began exactly one year ago, the land convoys throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina and the airdrops in Eastern Bosnia have brought vital relief to some two million people. Gloomy forecasts at this time last year that 400,000 victims might die during the winter fortunately never materialized. But we are now at a turning point. Without an early political breakthrough and without an immediate infusion of substantial financial support, I am deeply concerned that we are moving towards a second winter which could be as deadly for the victims as it might be catastrophic for the relief efforts. We must not allow that to happen.

The plight of Somalia is equally dramatic. UNHCR is not active inside Somalia. But my Office is protecting and assisting close to one million Somali refugees in Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen - that is 20% of the Somali population. We look forward to the day, hopefully soon, when peace will prevail in Somalia and we can help the refugees to go back and participate in the reconstruction of their country.

The dramas in former Yugoslavia and Somalia tend to overshadow the glimmers of hope in regions of Africa where the Government of Italy, the Church and the peoples of this country have played a significant role in bringing about political settlements. The peace process in Mozambique, painstakingly crafted here in Rome, is on track. A few weeks from now, UNHCR will launch its largest organized repatriation ever in Africa, when some of the 1.5 million refugees in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia will begin to return to Mozambique. The independence of Eritrea may also pave the way for the return of hundreds of thousands of refugees who have spent decades in exile, mainly in the Sudan.

Refugees set out on hazardous journeys fleeing war in search of peace. The refugee worker moves into situations of conflict and war, often at great personal risk, to protect the refugees and help them in their search for freedom. Many have lost their lives. I want, on this occasion, to pay a special tribute to the four-man Italian crew who lost their lives last September flying relief goods into Sarajevo. They died so that others may live.

Today, I accept the Golden Doves for Peace Prize on behalf of the world's 19 million courageous refugees and the thousands of brave international relief workers all over the world who have identified with the refugees in their quest for freedom and peace. The award serves, I believe, as a recognition of UNHCR's achievements in protecting and finding solutions for millions of refugees. But, equally important, it serves as a reminder that much work remains to be done on our course towards a world without refugees.